SADLY, CIAO BELLA IS NOW CLOSED. THEIR GELATO AND SORBET ARE STILL AVAILABLE AT RETAIL STORES.

Many years ago, I worked at a great little French bistro called Café Joul. In many ways, it was the place I first discovered quality dining in the city. I really developed a passion for the food there and the restaurant industry itself. And one of the things I’ll never forget is how they got their ice cream and sorbets. They were all supplied from Ciao Bella. I had never heard of this company before and loved their interesting flavors (like Rose Petal and Pumpkin Spice) so much that I even searched the city to find pints to include at my Thanksgiving dinner.

That was back in 2004. Ciao Bella was once the main gelato supplier for hipper, quality-focused restaurants in the city. Much has changed since then.

Now I’d say most restaurants either make their own ice cream, get it from another local source (Il Laboratorio del Gelato, Van Leeuwen), or just add bacon on top and call it a day. I can’t remember the last time I saw Ciao Bella on a NY restaurant menu. It sort of fell out of fashion (the owner sold it and opened Il Laboratorio, so probably brought customers with him). Or maybe we’ve just discovered in the last 6 years that gelato can be done a lot better with more innovation.

I’m sure the company doesn’t mind too much because in lieu of supplying local NY restaurants, Ciao Bella has expanded – selling their products in grocery stores and distributing the ice cream all across the country (there’s even a kiosk in the Ferry Building in San Francisco). Ciao Bella is now a nationally recognized brand, but it all started in NY.

So I found one of their few remaining storefronts on Mott Street in Nolita. For those that are not familiar with NYC’s strange neighborhood nicknaming phenomenon, Nolita stands for North of Little Italy. The company originally started in Little Italy, so I was very close to the source (although I’m sure that’s no longer where the gelato is made).

Ciao Bella is barely a shop. There’s nowhere to sit and it’s designed literally so you come in, see the flavors, order, and then walk out the exit door. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the floor also worked as a conveyer belt.

I was a bit surprised at the limited number of flavors. And it seemed as if they were out of many of them as well. It was a Saturday night, but well before 9pm. You’d think they’d be fully stocked for their prime time rush. I started my tasting, focusing on the gelatos and only making note of their interesting sorbet flavors (blood orange, blackberry cabernet).

The African chocolate (I’ve never had African chocolate) was really good. It was a bitter very dark chocolate that would rank up there with some of the artisanal chocolates coming out of Brooklyn. There was hope here, except the experience went downhill after that.

The cookies n cream tasted sort of artificial, which strikes me as strange considering the basic flavor components are vanilla,  fresh cream, and chunks of Oreo-type cookies. The Maple Ginger Snap was overwhelmed with ginger cookies killing any sort of maple goodness. My favorite gelato option is anything involving hazelnut. So I had to try the Italian Alba Hazelnut. It too immediately tasted of an extract and I found it a little too sweet. If this was my first experience with hazelnut gelato, it might have been my last.

I settled on a cone of the Mint Chocolate Chip. It started off promising with strong fresh mint notes, but the intensity faded away as I discovered a bit of iciness and a lack of chocolate chips.

Besides the mint, the gelato all had a nice, soft light texture to them. I found it to be lacking in the dense flavor department and I feel some of their flavors are compromised by sweet extracts, which I can only attribute to either laziness or cheaper mass production.

For the most part, the gelato was pleasant. I just expected more from what was once NY’s pre-eminent gelato supplier. Times have a-changed, my friend. Makes me want to drop back into Café Joul and check out their current gelato supplier. I hope they’ve changed with the times.

Is Ciao Bella the best ice cream in NY? Maybe once many years ago, but with progress (or selling out), they’ve slipped behind as other more innovative and quality focused companies have taken their place, leaving them with a 6 out of 10.

CIAO BELLA
285 Mott Street (between E. Houston and Prince Street)
Nolita
(212) 431-3591
27 East 92nd Street (between Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue)
Upper East Side
(646) 831-5555
54 Grand Central Terminal, Lower Dining Concourse
Midtown East
(212) 867-5311
225 Liberty Street in World Financial Center
Battery Park
(212) 786-4707
ciaobellagelato.com
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Category: Ice Cream

About the Author

Brian Hoffman is a classically trained actor who is now a full-time tour guide, blogger, and food obsessive. He leads food and drink tours around New York City, which not only introduce tour-goers to delicious food, but gives them a historical context. He also writes food articles for Gothamist and Midtown Lunch in addition to overseeing this blog and a few food video series, including Eat This, Locals Know, and Around the World in One City.

6 Responses to ARRIVERDERCI, CIAO BELLA! (Ciao Bella)

  1. sweetie says:

    your reviews rock.

    check out melt on the UES- 1053 2nd Ave (Btwn 55th & 56th St). i’m curious about how you’d rank their flavors, etc.

  2. Brian Hoffman says:

    Thanks for checking out the reviews. I’ll have to get up there to check out melt. Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. sweetie says:

    sure thing!

    sorry i wasn’t more specific in my comment. i find your reviews well written with excellent amount of detail about the taste quality of your selections. i’m really glad you taste more than 1 flavor at a time too.

    for the second time i happened to be pass by your review of the day. ciao is such a whole in the wall that i wouldn’t have ever spotted it otherwise (seen them in bodegas though). although i didn’t plan on ordering, i stopped into ciao. they appeared to have restocked, customer service was friendly enough, and large selection of their flavors are dairy free which is great for my vegan boyfriend. the toppings looked weak but who gets toppings on their gelato anyway?

  4. Brian Hoffman says:

    That’s funny.

    I didn’t try their sorbet flavors on my last visit, but I remember them being interesting. Great option for the vegans. Has he tried Lula’s? Curious what he thinks of their vegan ice cream.

  5. Kathryn Becht says:

    Hi Brian, this is Kathryn Becht, marketing manager for Ciao Bella. We are very sorry you had a negative experience at the Mott St. location. While an original store front location for us, this is one of our smaller format stores that has a limited selection and typically stocks and serves based on its neighborhood clientele. Ciao Bella has two other locations with 36 flavors where you can regularly find unique and innovative flavors like White Truffle gelato and Strawberry Merlot sorbet.

    Yes, Ciao Bella is more widely available today than in previous years, but I wanted to stress the Ciao Bella brand along with our Executive Chef (Italian born and trained Danilo Zecchin) remain committed to creating excitement and happiness for ice cream lovers everywhere. We provide pure, all natural desserts that are sure to tempt any taste bud. I would like to invite you to join me at our gelato bar in Grand Central Terminal for a one-on-one tasting and hopefully we can find you a flavor you enjoy. Best – Kathryn kathryn@ciaobellagelato.com

  6. Brian Hoffman says:

    Thanks for the comment, Kathryn. I try to remain unbiased and give each ice cream shop a fair, honest review, taking all circumstances into account. And for me it ultimately comes down to the product offered regardless of the location.

    I appreciate all you have said and I will be sure to visit the Grand Central location some time in the near future and if my experience is much different, I will add an addendum to my initial review.

    Let me assure you that I am a big fan of your sorbet and if this was a search for the best sorbet in the city, the rating would have been much higher. But there is some stiff ice cream competition out there.

    Thanks again for your reply. And looking forward to trying more Ciao Bella products in the future.

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